Memories for singer

Singing star Barbara Dickson
Singing star Barbara Dickson

Sheffield can claim to have provided a landmark in the emerging career of a young folk singer called Barbara Dickson.

In the late 60s, she had resigned her day job in the civil service to pursue her love of music in pubs and clubs in the Edinburgh area.

Encouraged (especially by fellow Scottish folk singer Hamish Imlach) to try her hand south of the border, and working with the likes of Billy Connolly, Gerry Rafferty, Rab Noakes and Archie Fisher, the Dunfermline-born folkie started to play clubs such as the Highcliffe in Sheffield.

Sheffield was one of the first audiences outside Scotland to appreciate the voice that Billy Connolly has said “just nailed me to the wall”.

Folk clubs were the environment in which Barbara could learn and develop her craft.

The die was cast for a musical career that was to broaden far beyond the burgeoning UK folk scene.

Her star began to rise further after an old friend, musician and playwright, Willy Russell, offered her the role of the musician and singer in his 1974 Beatles musical John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Bert at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre, which was to transfer to the West End.

It was another platform from which Barbara Dickson could build her career, eventually becoming Scotland’s top-selling female album artist of all time thanks to hits such as Answer Me, Another Suitcase in Another Hall, The Caravan Song and I Know Him So Well (with Elaine Paige).

A guest residency on BBC TV’s The Two Ronnies show introduced her to an audience of more than 15 million viewers on Saturday evenings.

And to follow all this was an Olivier Award-winning acting career with key performances on stage and TV.

Yet Barbara has never forgotten or wanted to shake off her folk roots.

She sang last April, for example, in the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards at the Royal Albert Hall, and although she continues to tour the UK with her full band, she continues to play more intimate acoustic shows alongside her long-time keyboard player, Nick Holland.

She is returning to Sheffield after what she says is “far too long” to perform with Nick Holland.

This time the venue is the City Hall Ballroom, on Sunday, September 24.

Her Highcliffe (now the Greystones) days are recalled in the late Sheffield writer JP Bean’s book about the history of British folk clubs, Singing From The Floor.

It was where she met the late BBC Radio Sheffield presenter and folk singer Tony Capstick, who was to support her on tour at the height of what she calls her pop powers.

“He was so well-informed, I learned so much from him,” she says.

And Barbara Dickson learned so much from the folk clubs, telling JP Bean: “It was the environment where I could hone my craft.

“Somebody once said to me ‘It’s all because you are very young and when you are that age influences are very important, and you remember them for the rest of your life.’

“I do think we were very privileged. I am not being a fogey here, but there is nothing now that is the equivalent of that.”

The Sheffield show will draw on Barbara’s folk roots, plus contemporary greats and some of her classic hits.